Custom «"The Tragedy of Othello" as an Imprint of Racial Prejudices» Essay Paper Sample
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There can be no doubt about the assertion that Shakespeare’s work The Tragedy of Othello is a tremendous contribution to the English literature. The problems of this particular play have been exposed to endless analysis from different literary perspectives. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in Shakespeare’s racial considerations in The Tragedy of Othello, as various views on this matter exist. While some of the scholars totally reject the concept of racism in the underlying play, the research is still dedicated to the exploration of this problem. Textual evidence suggests that the concept of racism exists in the play at different levels and can be analyzed from literary and linguistic perspectives. In addition, racism is developed by means of Shakespeare’s representation of alienation. The title character of The Tragedy of Othello becomes the main object of the speculations, as his Moorish origin serves as a background for considering this particular topic. Generally, the purpose of this research paper is to find out whether the concept of racism is one of the dominant in the play. It is reasonable to assume that racism reflects in the mirror of The Tragedy of Othello due to Shakespeare’s identification of the title character’s race and the contextual evidence of his difference and alienation.
Othello as a Title Character
Not surprisingly, the character of Othello contributes to the tragedy, providing it with very important additional shades. He is a Moor among civilized Italians, leading one life with them. It is necessary to admit that the character of Othello is somewhat pretentious. Owing to this feature, the tragedy becomes active and presents life values, which have already been nailed to the general background. In the tragedy, the theme of culture and its underground is central. This particular character is marked by a chaos in his soul and he admits that. Othello had been accustomed to trust in the power of wildness and arbitrariness. Therefore, the chaos that have disappeared owing to dwelling in Venice is not only about politics, citizenship, and war, but also about a wealth of the culture. Venice fascinated Othello; he knows that he owes it civilization, discipline, and public spirit. However, it is interesting that the author makes such a transition. Definitely, Shakespeare portrays Othello as a ‘barbarian’ in the past, and race is an essential contributor to this feature. Barbara Everett states, “Othello’s colour, which is to say his external being, is to some degree … not a literal factor, but a matter of social assertion and reaction” (72). The matter of reaction to his skin color is very offensive and it will take place further in the research paper.
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The Concept of Alienation: Links to Racism
The notion of racism in The Tragedy of Othello is closely tied up with the concept of alienation that functions as a background for considering racial differences of the characters. Researchers usually analyze the racial aspect through the prism of the title character’s alienation, which means that there was a significant reason for being quite distant from the present social norms. According to Toker, “his blackness and his exotic notions of honesty as well as honor become indication of his otherness and alienation, which make him a target of derogatory and disrespectful remarks when his matrimony to Brabantio's daughter was discovered” (30). In this case, Toker considers the title character to be “exotic”, meaning that he is different from the rest. Not surprisingly, the first thing that comes to mind for a contemporary reader is that by applying the above-mentioned exoticism, the researcher means race. In the play, Shakespeare himself puts emphasis on differences in characteristics of Othello, calling him “an extravagant and wheeling stranger / Of here and everywhere” (I. 1. 137-8). The notion of a stranger is very close to the concept of alienation, as aliens are always seen as strangers. Thus, the question is as following: Can Shakespeare’s intentions to show the skin differences cause this representation of a stranger? It is worth pointing out that excluding such a possibility would interfere with the play and make it lose its sense.
Apart from the concept of alienation, the reader can easily find out whether Shakespeare’s intentions consisted in portraying skin differences. For this, it is easy to imagine Othello as a white man and conclude whether the play’s essence is changed in the process of such a replacement. The question is very controversial and the answer is marked with a certain point of ambiguity. Imagining Othello as a white man can lead to the idea that the play will actually be deprived of alienation and strangeness.
Racial Prejudices in the Play
Interestingly, attention should be mainly paid to the textual representation of racism in the play. The matter is that there is an example that can be treated as racial prejudice. Apart from the above-mentioned notion of a stranger, it is important to lay emphasis on the following Shakespeare’s lines that concern the portrayal of Othello’s character. One of the characters believes that Othello “is far more fair than black” (I. 3.289). In this particular case, one should specifically take into account the meaning of the word ‘black’ and its textual connotation. It seems that the connotation of the word ‘black’ is quite negative. By the word ‘black’, Shakespeare could mean the negative characteristics of black people, their differences, and contrast. Researchers also tend to pay attention to the matter of language used in order to present Othello and hidden racial prejudice. Erickson points out that “The crudest use of racial language, prompted by Iago and shared by Roderigo and Brabanzio, is unabashedly antiblack” (160). This statement is true regarding the previous examples and any other that can be found in the text of the primary source.
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Racial prejudice can be vividly seen by means of analyzing the peculiarities of other characters’ language towards Othello. Many accosts seem to be offensive. For example, the reader encounters such phrases as “an old black ram” (I. 1. 88) and “the blacker devil” (V. 2. 130). Both phrases are very offensive because they resort to calling a man concerning his skin color. Othello, the title character, admits his blackness: “Haply, for I am black / And have not those soft parts of conversation” (III. 3. 263-264). Although Shakespeare tends to reflect certain racial prejudices in the play, he tries to smooth them by means of using his humanitarian approach to literature that was so popular in the Renaissance period. Since human values are in the center, the author condemns such an attitude to Othello and engages upon the alienation of the main character.
Although textual evidence can be found to support the idea of racism in the play, still some scholars consider them ridiculous. The main reason for questioning the point of racism explored by the researchers, who prove that it exists, is that the notion of racism did not take place when Shakespeare lived. Therefore, in the opinion of those who spread conflicting views, the author could not express his opinion about race and skin differences. However, Skura, dwelling upon the definition of racism, states that “xenophobia operated everywhere in Shakespeare's time, although the word had not yet been invented” (300). This key idea demonstrates that the conflicting views are accompanied by the wrong assumptions.
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The Links between Racism and Play’s Problematics
One cannot object the idea that racism is the component of the play’s problematics, which means that it tremendously contributes to it. Firstly, it is reasonable to shed light on the assumption that Othello, without such an origin, would not become a self-sufficient character that guarantees success to the author. Shakespeare’s humanitarian approach was connected with a transition from a Moor marked with wildness and the absence of softness into a civilized man who lives in Europe and is culturally aware. Although the notion of culture is central in the play, it can be easily assumed that the peculiarities of Othello’s skin color are also important in this context.
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Along with the issues connected with a human being in the center of the world, Shakespeare introduces the notion of race that was still unfamiliar at that time. It is quite evident that to remind the reader of Othello’s origin, the author uses the word ‘black’ all the time. These ideas can be backed up by referring to the text of the play itself. In addition, the plot of the play suggests that it is impossible to transfer to a person, who you are not regardless of any cultural influences. Anyway, the title character is always manipulated and he becomes a culprit, committing a suicide. Othello’s suicide can be considered through the prism of racism as well. A person whose origin and race differ cannot live up to the others’ expectations. It seems that Shakespeare has thought out this idea and presented it through the prism of his humanitarian approach.
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Bearing in mind the previous point, the reader may conclude that the existence of textual evidence, which directly lays emphasis on the racial problem, proves that The Tragedy of Othello is an imprint of skin color differences. In this research paper, it has been argued that racial prejudices exist both on the contextual and language levels. The concept of alienation seems to be close to the notion of racism, as it is perceived as a concept of a stranger. Therefore, color skin matters to Shakespeare and with its help, he managed to show that the power of culture/Venice has a so-called healing force that may change a person from being wild to civilized. However, the play demonstrates that the origin can never be forgotten and it can become a burden for a person. To cut a long story short, Shakespeare’s play Othello is an example of racial prejudices that can be textually proved because of the underlying concept of alienation (strangeness) and Othello’s background.
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